Customs of the Weeks after Epiphany


1. Candlemas | 2. Feast of St. Blaise | 3. Farewell to the Alleluia


1. February 2-- Candlemas

The Presentation in the Temple

One of the grandest feasts of the Middle Ages and one of only three feasts in the English language verbally denoted by a Mass (Christmas and Michaelmas being the other two), Candlemas, or the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, commemorates Our Lady's visit to the Temple in humble obedience to that clause of the Old Law which requires a woman to be ritually purified forty days after bearing a son. On the assumption that Our Lord was born on December 25, the date of Mary's visit to the Temple would be February 2. It was on this day that Simeon the aged prophet, upon seeing the

infant Jesus, proclaimed him to be "a Light to the gentiles" (Lk. 2.32). Hence the day has always involved a celebration of light. The most famous of these customs -- and the one from which the feast takes its common name -- is the blessing of, and procession with, candles. The day begins with five beautiful blessings of candles that invoke God's aid in living out allegorically what the light and fire of a candle symbolize: wisdom and illumination, purification and charity, and so on. A solemn and penitential procession (in which the celebrant wears purple) exits and then re-enters the church, at which point the purple is cast aside for the jubilance of white and a joyful Mass is offered. One of the more distinctive features of this Mass is that the candles are held lighted in the hand during the Gospel and from the Sanctus to the Communion.

Candles used in the procession are not the only ones blessed on this day. Many families traditionally had most or all of their special candles -- for Advent, St. Lucy's Day, Christmas, or the family shrine -- blessed on this day.

The Feast's association with light also made it a great day for predicting the weather. According to an old legend, if the sun shines bright for the better part of the day, it means forty more days of winter. From this quaint superstition came Groundhog Day.

Finally, Candlemas is the absolute last day for ending the Christmas season. Any Christmas items that had not been taken down on Epiphany or its Octave were now carefully put away.


2. February 3-- Feast of St. Blaise

While he was in prison, the Armenian Bishop Blaise (who suffered martyrdom in the fourth century) miraculously cured a little boy choking on a fishbone lodged in his throat. Ever since then, St. Blaise has been the patron saint of throats. Saint Blaise Sticks (pan bendito) are distributed on his feast and kept in the home to be eaten for a sore throat (see Foods). The most popular custom, however, is the Blessing of Throats. For this sacramental, a priest takes two crossed candles, puts them up to the recipient's throat, and prays: "Through the intercession of Saint Blaise, Bishop and Martyr, may the Lord free you from the evils of the throat and all other evils."


3. The "Depositio" of the Alleluia

The last ceremonial act of the Time after Epiphany is the bittersweet farewell, or depositio, to the word "Alleluia," which is suppressed for seventy days in the traditional Roman rite from Septuagesima Sunday until Holy Saturday night. This ceremony usually takes after the office of none (i.e., around 3 p.m.) on the Saturday before Septuagesima Sunday (see Depositio).

Meaning of the Time After Epiphany

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